Disaster police win right to sue

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The Independent Online
Police officers who suffered psychological illness as a result of helping dying football fans at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster yesterday won the legal right to compensation which is likely to reach pounds 2m.

Relatives of those killed were furious. Eddie Spearritt, whose 14-year- old son was crushed to death, said: "Thousands of ordinary people who had gone to watch a football match end up being life-savers and they're entitled to nothing, while those whose job it was get compensation." The victory in the Court of Appeal for four officers - and up to 17 others with similar cases in the pipeline who are expected to benefit - was in stark contrast to the experience of many relatives of the tragedy's 96 victims, whose compensation claims failed.

South Yorkshire police had admitted negligence but had argued that the roles of the four in the immediate aftermath - plus a fifth who lost her appeal - was too remote to entitle them to damages.

The decision, overturning a High Court ruling last year, could have significant implications for future compensation claims by those whose jobs involve the trauma of confronting disaster.

While one of the three judges dissented, they all refused leave for an appeal to the House of Lords, though the force later said it was likely to petition the law lords for permission.

The officers, Constable Mark Bairstow, 46, PC Anthony Beavis, 48, PC Geoffrey Glave, 46, and Inspector Henry White, all suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after tending to the dead and dying on the pitch or in a makeshift mortuary.

Lord Justices Rose and Henry ruled that officers in their position must be compensated because they were "primary victims", either as "rescuers" or as employees the force had "negligently" exposed to the risk of psychiatric injury.

Lord Justice Henry said the helplessness felt by the officers, the sheer number of deaths, the distress of relatives and the hostility of the crowd made the tragedy "something quite unique".

The judge said that exposure to injury was a fact of police life but there were no "public policy" reasons why the officers should not be compensated for the force's failure to cut off access to pens which were already overfull when a gate was opened.

The officers' solicitor, Simon Allen of Russell Jones & Walker, who handled the cases for the Police Federation, said the ruling showed that members of the emergency services were not just "cannon fodder" and had a right to be protected from official negligence.

The ruling follows the pounds 1.2m out-of-court settlement reached last June with 14 other officers who had fought to rescue Liverpool fans in the pens at the Sheffield ground.

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